Hard times good for Lotto
The Desert Sun – Palm Springs, Calif.
The Desert Sun
Whether it’s an act of desperation, a hopeful dream or just a hobby, more people are playing the lottery.
Its popularity has soared over the past two years. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, California Lottery sales rose $400 million, or 13 percent, joining a long list of states that saw sales increases, including Colorado, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Scratcher ticket sales helped fuel California’s increase for the second year in a row, the California Lottery reported. The total sales tab was $3.44 billion last year, lottery spokesman Alex Traverso said.
“I think it has a lot to do with the economy,” said Abel Reynoso, who works at the Desert Hot Springs Chevron on Palm Avenue off Interstate 10. “They’re getting desperate.”
The Chevron is among stores dubbed “lucky retailers” that have sold winning jackpot tickets. The gas station — one of only two “lucky” stores in the Coachella Valley — sold a $7 million winning ticket in 2009.
“Everyone’s heard stories about someone who has won the lotto, and they wonder what it would be like if they won it,” said Reynoso, who said lottery tickets are one of his store’s top-selling items.
Kate Sweeny, assistant professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside, said the uptick in lottery sales largely occurs when people feel a lack of control over events larger than themselves, like the economy.
“That feeling of self-control is very important to psychological well-being,” Sweeny said. “To the extent that you feel you have control, you take control.”
Every time someone experiences something beyond their self-control, such as a job loss, it makes a withdrawal on their “self-control bank.” When people deplete their self-control resources, they become depressed, Sweeny said.
Scratcher tickets, which can bring instant satisfaction, are a way to bring that control back to a person’s life, she said.
They can cost $1, $2, $3 or $5. The higher the price, the more chances a player is allotted.
The most common games require players to either match given numbers to a “winning number” on the side of a scratcher or to get three of a kind.
Traverso attributes the rise in scratcher sales, which account for about 58 percent of lottery sales, to a change in California law that allows for higher prize amounts.
“Every dollar we can put into prizes helps our bottom line,” Traverso said.
Palm Springs resident Abeit Davignon, 61, says he only plays the scratchers because they seem to pay off better for him than the Super Lotto or Mega Millions. Each ticket with those contests costs $1.
The passage of Assembly Bill 142 in California in 2010 allowed the lottery commission to raise the amount of prize money available for scratchers and lower the percentage of money given to schools. This resulted in higher ticket sales and more money going toward education.
Prior to the bill, schools received about 34 percent of all sales, and 52 percent funded prizes. The rest went toward overhead.
Although the lottery gives back to education, J.P. Sira, owner of a “lucky” 7-Eleven off of Sunrise Way in Palm Springs, says everybody plays to be a millionaire.
“I’ve never seen anybody say ‘I want to help schools,'” he said Thursday.
Offering higher prize amounts results in more winners, which lead to more people playing the lottery, Traverso said.
Mega Millions sales rose to $538 million in California due to increased advertising, as well as two jackpots worth more than $300 million, he said.
“When it gets past a certain amount, I always play it,” said Roberta Orsi, a 60-year-old Palm Springs resident who has been playing the lottery in California since it began in October 1985.
Reynoso has many customers who come in every day to buy scratchers, spending as long as a half-hour in the store, including one man who says he feels like a kid when he wins.
“Once they win, they want to keep playing,” Reynoso said.
Sweeny describes this as the “lipstick effect” — when someone can’t afford the big purchases they want like a TV, they buy small things such as lipstick or a lottery ticket.
“If you don’t play, you can’t win,” Reynoso said. “Everybody wants to get lucky that once.”